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Premium Automotive Audiophile Systems

While the percentage of audiophiles in the world seems to be small, we seem to have had an influence on the auto market. The recent trend of luxury car companies maximizing the audio experience in many new vehicles has led to some interesting partnerships and design approaches in the auto audio world. One of the first partnerships was Linn and Aston Martin for the audio system in the now-discontinued Vanquish. Lexus and Mark Levinson also have made major inroads in selling premium audio inside nearly every make of Lexus sold today and the trend has spread like wildfire in the car business, which now moves far more premium audio systems than stand-alone, in-home audiophile systems. Here are some of the best systems on the market.

Boston Acoustics and the Dodge Charger Super Bee - $41,915 - The Dodge Charger was one of the baddest muscle cars of the early’70s, and now is back in a hopped-up Super Bee version, sporting over 400 HP and foot-pounds of torque, with a sound system to match, thanks to Boston Acoustics speakers and Visteo Co. amplifiers and DSP processing. Boston Acoustics put two years of speaker testing, system equalization and tuning into this system to make sure it maintained the clean, clear sound with smooth octave to octave tonal balance, making The Boston Sound™ available in a powerful American muscle car.

Harmon/Kardon and Mercedes Benz ML550 - $57,225 - So you need an SUV and want performance all around. Well, Mercedes and Harmon/Kardon have teamed up for a full 5.1 system, allowing you totally immersive surround sound in a beautifully stylish SUV that is one of the safest cars on the road. The naturally quiet interior of the Mercedes ML Class is a great place for a surround sound system and, with the likes of HK doing the system, you can be sure the audio performance will be topnotch. If the 550 doesn’t offer enough performance for you, you can upgrade to the 63 or 65 AMG models for even more power. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to appreciate the tunes over those oversized engines, thanks to the total system approach designed to fill the car with powerful, well-balanced sound.

Dynaudio and Volvo S80 V8 - $51,605 - Scandinavian safety expert Volvo has teamed up with Danish speaker builder Dynaudio to offer a super high-end sound system for their upper-end models. The top of the line is currently the S80 V8, which has 12 Dynaudio drivers, powered by Alpine Digital amplifiers. Dynaudio put a ton of technology into this system, which utilizes their famed Magnesium Silicate Polymer bass cones with aluminum voice coils for increased power handling and soft domed tweeters to produce that legendary Dynaudio sound in a compact environment. The 12 drivers are divided into five channels and the system uses Dolby Pro Logic II surround effects. DSPs also help to adjust the sound for varying speeds and seating positions. One thing that is obvious about this system is its lack of obtrusiveness. Volvo and Dynaudio worked to make this system very discreet. The only visible difference between this and the stock Volvo system is the small Dynaudio badge on the dashboard and, obviously, the sound of the systems. Power and discretion seem fitting for the understated quality of a Volvo.

Bang and Olufsen and Audi A8/S8/A8l W12 - $99,600 and up - Currently in production and offered as an option in the powerful Audi 8 series of vehicles, Bang and Olufsen has produced an absolutely stunning system, featuring sleek pop-up Acoustic Lens tweeters to improve dispersion of high frequencies, similar to the ones used in B&O’s top of the line Beolab 5 speakers and filled with a sizeable number of mid-bass and bass drivers, as well as a 200mm subwoofer. The system sports over 1,000 watts total power, provided by modern-day ICE digital amplifiers. The speakers are covered in clean yet stylish aluminum grilles that are as durable as they are attractive. Clearly, with all those speakers and all that power, this system rocks, but B&O utilizes sealed enclosures for all the drivers to allow the sound to stay inside the car and not project your music or phone conversations outside the vehicle, even at extreme volumes. It’s a great system, with the Euro styling B&O is known for and the classy refinement you’d expect from Audi. Now you can rock out without drawing undue attention to yourself.

B&W Jaguar XKR Portfolio - $98,700 hardtop, $104,700 convertible - Anglophiles rejoice. Two of the finest British companies have teamed up to produce something quite simply more than the sum of its parts. The limited-edition Jaguar XKR Portfolio will come with a specially designed Bowers and Wilkins audio system custom-made for either the ragtop or hardtop model, sporting B&W’s Kevlar midranges and aluminum domed tweeters for extended high-frequency response. The two companies worked together for a year and a half, optimizing speaker placement, mounting, angles, time delays and system equalization to give you a sonic treat not found in many home systems. Add to this all the extra goodies that come with the Portfolio model and you’ve got one great limited-edition sports car. They are taking orders now for June shipment.

Mark Levinson and Lexus - LS600h L $104,000 - This car is for anyone who wants, nay, demands a hybrid with the best performance from both car and audio systems. Forget the gas mileage, it’s essentially the same as the gas model (which costs a lot less), but this car allows you to pull in silently under electric power and proudly display the hybrid badge showing the world you care for the environment, even if your car doesn’t help it as much as some might think. The audio system in these cars is truly world class. Mark Levinson has created a discrete 5.1 surround system reproduced through a 7.1 array of speakers that is perfectly mated to the acoustics of the Lexus LS series, a total of 19 speakers powered by 15 bridged amplifier channels, outputting some 450 watts make sure all those speakers have the juice they need to perform at their best. The system can play DVD-Video as well as DVD-Audio in DTS or native 5.1. MP3 and WMA are also supported. There is even an internal hard drive for loading your favorite music. Three-way front and side speakers, as well as two-way surrounds and a dedicated subwoofer, insure all the sound you could ever want. The Lexus build makes for an exceedingly quiet interior, even on their gas models, and the hybrid can be scarily quiet inside, but thanks to the folks at Mark Levinson, it doesn’t have to be!

Naim Audio in Bentley Motorcars - Naim Audio, one of the world’s most highly respected makers of audiophile gear, has teamed up with Bentley, one of the highest-end luxury car makers, to create the finest sound system possible in an automobile. Both companies seem a perfect fit, given their British heritage and their uncompromising standards. Naim and Bentley worked together for 18 months to insure the best possible sound, and many groundbreaking technologies are being implemented into this system, such as the world’s most powerful production automotive amplifier at 1,100 watts, powering up to 15 active speakers. Next-generation Digital Signal Processing, with eight user modes to enhance the listening experience by seating position or music type, is also present. Speakers systems are exclusively designed for each model of the Bentley line, and specifically designed for both hardtop and convertibles to maximize sound in each and every model, allowing the system to reproduce the true emotion of the music. If this system sounds half as good as Naim’s home gear, every audiophile is going to soon want a Bentley and vice-versa. These systems will be coming out the end of 2008, and the Naim for Bentley sound system will be available in all Bentley models.

Bose and the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano - retail $250,000, but you’ll never get one for retail - Bose has sound systems in 19 different car manufacturers’ vehicles. The most highly sought-after vehicle sporting one of their systems is clearly the 599 GTB Ferrari. Bose put in their proprietary AutoPilot noise compensation technology, which monitors the reproduced sound continually and compensates for any inaccuracies and background noise due to the road, varying speed or even having the sunroof or windows open. Such advanced audio correction is said to vastly improve the sound of the system in all of the situations the automobile environment can encounter. Those lucky enough to own this 612 HP V12 monster will likely have little use for the radio, but when you don’t want to hear those Italian ponies, it’s good to know they put a lot of thought into maximizing the sound system, too.

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